Mackinac Island – A Place out of Time

By Brandi M. Seals

Mackinac Island has long been a tourist destination in Michigan. This island, located in the Straights of Mackinac, is located in Lake Huron as it separates the Upper Peninsula from the Lower Peninsula. Visitors that take the ferry from Mackinaw City to the south or St. Ignace to the north will have a 20 minute boat ride to the island that features views of the Mackinac Bridge to the west.

Mackinac Island is like a place out of time. The 4.4 square mile island features Victorian architecture and does not allow motorized vehicles on its streets. Those that live, work and visit the island get around on foot, horse, carriage, and bicycle. An 8 mile long road encircles the island and interior of the island is carved with roads, and trails. Maps of the island can be obtained at the visitor’s center located near the docks. The road that surrounds the island stays close to the shoreline. It is M-185, a state highway. It is one of only a handful of highways in the U.S. that does not allow motorized vehicles.

The island features a small airport, Fort George, tourist shops that sell the best fudge ever, and the Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel is a large beautiful hotel near the center of the island and serves as the only large-scale housing option available to visitors. The Grand Hotel opened in 1887 and features 385 rooms. Each room is unique. No two are the same.

The Grand Hotel is elegant and formal, like something out of “The Great Gatsby.” When dining at the Grand Hotel, guest must dress for dinner. That means a coat and tie for the men and dresses or pantsuits for the women. While staying in the hotel, keep your tips to yourself. Tipping is not expected and it is not permitted. Instead it is an added charge included in your daily room rate.

If the Grand Hotel is not your cup of tea do not worry. There are also several smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts that guests can stay at.

Mackinac Island gets its name from the Ottawa or Chippewa word, Michilimackinac. The word has been translated to mean “large turtle” which the island definitely resembles. Note that Mackinac is pronounced Mack-in–w. The c is silent. Most places with the word Mackinac in it retain this original spelling, but Mackinaw City, on the coast of the Lower Peninsula, is spelled with a W so that it the word looks the way it sounds.

The island was at the center of the area fur industry starting in the 17th century and continuing as such up into the start of the 19th century. The Mackinaw Fur Company merged with the Southwestern Fur Company and formed the American Fur Company.

Mackinac Island was once in the hands of the fur-trading but the island changed hands to the British during the French and Indian War. The British maintained control of the island for awhile, even following the Revolutionary War. They built Fort Mackinac on the island in the late 1700s before giving the Fort to the United States in 1796. The British were not gone for long. They recaptured the fort in the War of 1812 and held it despite attempts by the Americans to regain control. The British held the fort until the end of the war, when it was returned to U.S. control by the Treaty of Ghent in 1815.

Mackinac Island went through some changes and has been a tourist destination since the early 1900s. It was once the second made national park in the United States. In 1875, most of the island was named, Mackinac National Park. Yellowstone was made the first national park only three years earlier. After Fort Mackinac was decommissioned in 1895, the land was returned to the state of Michigan and the area became Michigan’s first state park, Mackinac Island State Park.

People live on Mackinac Island year round. Approximately 500 call Mackinac Island home 365 days a year. The residents live mainly in a historic community located on the southern tip of the island and in the community of “Harrisonville” which is farther inland. During the resort season the population increases 30 fold. The island can accommodate an average of 15,000 people per day.

The Thrills and Adventures of Kennedy Space Center

Florida’s fun and sun is great, but most of us want a more filling vacation, one that has more attractions than just shopping, Disney characters, and the beach. If you are one of those people, a terrific attraction to consider is the space-related adventure you’ll have at Kennedy Space Center. It doesn’t matter if you’re not really interested in space travel and rocket-ships; I wasn’t particularly thrilled with these things when I visited, but the excitement Kennedy Space Center provides proved to be an unforgettable fascination. The only big obstacle is the security issues that have become so much more important in recent times. Take care to cooperate with guards and make sure not to bring anything that could pose a problem. By complying with security standards before entering Kennedy Space Center, you will save yourself tons of trouble later on.

Kennedy Space Center lies across the East Coast near Cape Canaveral, Florida, and is easily accessible from well-known Florida cities like St. Augustine and Orlando. You can also get here from the popular I-95. It’s wise to have an itinerary before arriving or you will be wandering around and wondering what to do next. Kennedy has a lot to offer and you don’t want to miss out on any of it. If you’re only looking for the attractions that are unlike anything else, don’t forget to stop by “Astronaut Encounter.” A real live astronaut graces the stage to answer queries. If you’re lucky, there will be photo ops afterwards where your child (or you!) can get pictures taken with the astronaut in question. Find out if your trip will coincide with a particular encounter.

The Rocket Garden is one of the most interesting things you will see at Kennedy. This is actually what it sounds like; a “garden” filled with huge rockets, noses pointing to the sky. It is a very unique sight and a wonderful photo spot. Relatively near the garden you will see a big piece of metal that resembles a decorative steeple in an old church. This is actually an engine from Saturn V F-1. As you walk along there will be tons of places to snap a memorable photo, and to stop and explore. Murals and historical information are scattered across the grounds as you enter the complex. Many of the exhibits are indoors in various multimedia rooms and museum areas.

One of the strangest attractions at Kennedy is one that I am not sure still exists. People lined up to take a picture of an astronaut in a head-to-toe space suit. The “suit” was moving, but no one had any way to know whether there was actually a person inside or not!

You can board a special bus and take a trip to some Space Center buildings most visitors don’t normally get to see. Kennedy is also home to theaters and interactive programs that give the illusion of actually being part of space exploration. If you find yourself getting hungry while visiting Kennedy Space Center and expect to wait hours to pick up fast food, fear not! There are some great restaurants here. One of the best recommendations is to make reservations for a special meal where you can actually eat with one of Kennedy’s astronauts! This is guaranteed to be a time you’ll never forget, and one that kids will store in their memory banks forever. If you don’t plan to be visiting at a time when this is possible, another great restaurant is The Orbit. This, in my opinion, is a terrific place to eat. Instead of the regular boring sit-down, the food is constantly revolving, and you get to grab what you want as it goes past.

Check out the Astronaut Memorial for a somber yet fascinating side-trip. It is a huge mirror that reflects the names of the casualties of space travel. One thing visitors usually don’t expect to see at Kennedy is alligators! Yes, when you stop by one of the small ponds in the area, you will probably see gators lounging in the sun. What would be a trip to Florida without seeing scaly creatures? It seems out of place for a NASA administration, but kids will love it.

You should be able to find anything your heart desires in Kennedy Space Center’s gift shop. Two levels chock-full of all kinds of souvenirs and oddities, it is a space-lover’s heaven. From “normal” offerings like t-shirts and plush, to more unique things such as space blankets, if you leave Kennedy empty-handed it is by your own choice! For those who like jewelry, there are even tiny rocket-ship necklaces to show off your love for the Space Center.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Where to Stay for Shopping in Chicago

by Janie Blank

I have two girlfriends I worked with when we were all just starting our careers and we have remained friends over the years. One way we have found to stay in touch is to go on what we call our Ya-Ya trip to Chicago to do Holiday shopping each year. We set the dates for next year before we leave this year. These dates go in the Palm Pilot or Blackberry and are in stone. By setting our trip so far in advance no meetings get scheduled for those dates. Another added protection is that the trip is always Sunday to Wednesday so family and social obligations do not interfere.

This will be our tenth year for the annual Ya-Ya event in Chicago. For the first eight years we stayed at the Lenox Suites. We loved the location at Rush and Ontario. It was just a short block off Michigan Avenue and a good place to start the mile. We always had a large suite on the northeast corner, only the floor varied. The room was always the same. It had a kitchenette and a bedroom with enough room for rollaway bed, as well as a pullout in the living room. The first year one of the Ya-Yas, as we call ourselves, had a weekend business conference that delayed her by a day so she got stuck on the rollaway. The other Ya-Ya did so much shopping the first afternoon before the other two arrived that she had already surrounded the hideabed with shopping bags so that became her bed of choice. So the tradition started. I am the lucky one who got the real bed but I am also the oldest, if not by too many years. I always tried to take my turn on the rollaway but no amount of insistence on my part ever changed it.

Before last years trip I got ready to book our suite and found that the hotel would be closed all of December for remodeling! Oh my! I did some online research and came up with the Omni at Michigan and Ohio. If a location could be more perfect than what we had before this would be it. The room description was even better with a hideabed in one room and TWO double beds in the other. No more rollaway. No more guilt for me. The price seemed right as well. The reservation clerk assured me we would NEVER go back to our old hotel. This I doubted but thought I would wait to reserve judgment.

When we got to the room we were pleasantly surprised. The countertops were granite. The linens were downright luxurious. The TV was a flat screen. Believe me there was nothing not to like. The bathroom in the old hotel could only be reached by walking through the bedroom. This one was larger and nicer and had an entrance from both rooms.

The shopping habits of the three Ya-Yas vary quite a bit. I do a lot of my shopping as the year goes by so that by the time I get to Chicago I only have a few people left to worry about. I like to walk in the morning, and go to the museum and see my two daughters and another girlfriend who live there. The second Ya-Ya is usually in the same mode I am so we hang out together, do a little shopping now and then, meet our friend for lunch and finally drag her off to dinner in the evening. She has a very high-powered job and just leaves no time for Holiday shopping but this trip. We always say she is on a mission.

As our Ya-Ya friend ran from one store to the next, shopping bags overflowing, she would need to come back to the hotel periodically to unload. In the process of this she discovered that the Omni has a limousine that will run you to, for instance, the old Marshall Fields or down to the Watertower at no charge! This is just part of their service! I doubt wild horses could move her back to the old hotel but being the one who always does the booking, I called the Lenox Suites this year and found out they have a new name! They also have a new, much higher room rate of over $100 more per night! It is amazing how quickly we were able to start a new tradition. Needless to say, we are booked into the Omni again this year.

Three ‘Must-See’ Places In Northern Kentucky

During my youth, Covington, KY, the city I was raised, endured a face lift much like many cities go through. The stables that used house horses at the end of Scott Street next to the Suspension Bridge have given way to the River Center buildings and the used car lot at the beginning of Madison streets has moved so that Northern Kentucky could have parking for its own convention center. Even though Covington, KY has changed its skyline to attract corporate revenue, the city has not abandoned its old world charm. In 1988, Covington adorned its historic Riverside Drive with several statues that commemorated those who have crossed the shores of the Ohio River in the past. Statues depicting John Roebling, designer of the first suspension bridge that connects Covington to Cincinnati and Simon Kenton, pioneer explorer and name sake of Kenton county, in which Covington lies, are just a few of the statues that add to Riverside Drive’s historic aroma. Among these life-size representations of historic Northern Kentucky figures, the statue of James Bradley, a former slave who did who followed his life-long dream to become educated, is one of the most astonishing.

James Bradley started his life as a child in Africa. Early in his life, young James was stolen from his family and brought to the Unites States. Young James arrived in South Carolina and immediately sold to a slave handler who brought him to Pendleton County. Within several months, young James was sold to Mr. Bradley, which whom James gets his surname.
James grew up on the plantation in Pendleton County, KY and by the age of eighteen James managed the plantation. James’ master decided to move his family and the plantation to Arkansas and after the move; James sought out to purchase his freedom. James worked for his master during the day and at night worked for himself, often only able to muster a few hours of sleep during the night. After the death of his master, it took James over five years of working over time, to save seven hundred dollars and purchase his freedom. Once a free man, James crossed the Ohio River at the banks of Covington, KY. It was not too long after he taught himself how to read that James was admitted into Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Being the first African American student admitted to Lane Seminary, James was instrumental in aiding the abolitionists during the infamous Lane Debates of 1834. After the rebellion during the same year, James attended The Sheffield Institute for one year, but nothing is known of James Bradley after that.

The James Bradley Statue, created by George Danhires, is made of bronze and has the dimensions of 49″x29″x53″ with a base of 28″x8’x17″. The statue is placed on an actual park bench over looking the Ohio River on Riverside Drive in Covington, KY. Tourists and residents alike have taken pictures of themselves reading along side of Mr. Bradley or sitting on the park bench next to him. The pages that are in Mr. Bradley’s open book are blank, but they do not symbolize the emptiness of his life, but reinforce that fact that life is like an open book waiting for the written word.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Slavery to Freedom Museum (1807 -).

This brick townhouse, fashioned in Georgian and Federal styles, is located in Washington, KY. In 1833, when owned by Marshall Key, nephew to Chief Justice John Marshall and brother to Col. Thomas Marshall who served as a Staff Officer under George Washington, his daughter became the pupil of Harriet Beecher (Stowe) (1811-1896), author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Upon a visit, Beecher (Stowe) received the inspiration for the book’s characters, “Uncle Tom” and a “Topsy”. Topsy’s real name was Jane who later married Isham Anderson. Behind the museum is a small brick structure, known as an “Indian Fort.” The Fort helped settlers ward off Indians who often crossed the Ohio River at nearby Maysville. Included in this museum are original mantels, woodworking, floor, doors, slavery artifacts, period furnishings, slave leg irons and Civil War artifacts. This museum is included on the “Underground Railroad Tours.”

RiverCenter (1990-)

Master planned as an urban redevelopment that encompassed all aspects of private and public cooperation, RiverCenter was officially proposed to the city of Covington in 1988. Opening May 1990, RiverCenter composed of an eleven acre complex which included an eighteen story office building, a two-hundred and thirty roomed Embassy Suites hotel and Covington Landing which had two floating facilities that housed restaurants, shops, entertainment activities and riverboat excursions. At the time, Covington Landing was deemed the largest floating entertainment facility on a US inland waterway. Corporex Companies Inc of Ft. Wright was commissioned to develop the on land portion of RiverCenter. BnW was commissioned to develop the floating portion. North/south oriented, RiverCenter is bound by Court St., Second St., Madison St., and the Ohio River. Champion Ice Co. building, which was on the National Register of Historic Buildings, was demolished in to make way.

Food For Thought in Greater CIncinnati

In the hustle and bustle of downtown living, mornings could prove a daunting time. There are only a few short hours where most people are going to work or trying to get their children (or themselves) off to school. This is why coffee and the shops that sell them have become so very popular. This is also why coffee shops have expanded to serve much more than just your regular cup of java. Large coffee chains have added to their menus a different bevy of barista wares. This phenomenon has not been lost on the smaller, locally owned coffee corner stores. Coffee Emporium is a perfect place to find the regular cup of Joe and more. For one thing, they roast their own coffee beans and have a marinade of selections to choose from. They only have a select few that are readily available for the drink and go crowd, but you can wait a few minutes longer for whichever flavor you want.

Saturday morning is one of the better times to go because you miss the sometime hurried bustle of the downtown crowd. Along with my Grande Carmel Latte, I order a sausage, egg and cheese croissant. Again, something else that can not be found at that larger coffee store based in Seattle, Washington. Not only are the baristas very pleasant, the also know how to make a sandwich, clad with wireless internet access, I park myself on the very comfortable couch and place my lap top atop of my lap (to actually write this article) and await my order. After many pleas form me to let me come up to the counter to get my order, the workers still make every effort to walk around the large counter and bring my food out to me. All though I would love to one day try their home made soups that are from Myra’s Dionysus restaurant in Clifton, I never seem to surpass that craving for their breakfast sandwiches. Stay awhile, relax with your cup of coffee and maybe you will run into a marinade of Cincinnati’s who’s who. Coffee Emporium has another location in Hyde Park. After my breakfast sandwich, I come to the end of my latte but still craving more. I decided to leave with a Grande Carmel Frapichino (pictured below).

Grade: A

110 East Central ParkwayHistoric Over-the-RhineDowntown Cincinnatit: 513.651.5483 Store HoursM-F 7am – 4pm

When looking for a touch of French class in Cincinnati, there are a few different places one can frequent. Un-surprisingly there are all run by the famous Jean Robert. One type of French cuisine that was assuredly left out was that of breakfast.

This changed just a few moths ago when Jean Robert branched out and scudded across the Ohio River to quaint street of Greenup Ave to open the Greenup Cafe.

This cafe on Greenup surprisingly brings a touch of Rue De Champs Elysee to this Northern Kentucky city. Its outdoor seating, a few tables in the front and the side and a larger number in the back, was a perfect compliment to a Saturday morning of next to perfect weather.

Remembering this recently opened cafe, we ventured to try the new digs. Expecting to have a wait, or at least be seated by a server, my friend and I walk inside the small service area where there were customers lined to by freshly made pasties on display. Speaking with a server, we were told that we seat ourselves, a great way to cut the tension and relax the customer. Obviously, we chose to take advantage of the summer’s fall-like weather and sit outdoors in the back.

Seating ourselves, it was not long before a slight speaking server approached our table and took our drink order. That was the fastest service we would get that morning. Having ample time to look over the breakfast menu before our drinks were served, I decided to order the Omlette Medley and my friend, an order of buttermilk pancakes.

From the wait for our food to arrive, you could tell that the space between the tables was not made for the servers to quickly move from table to table. The waters and waitresses did not look rushed at all. After about 30mins (despite the great conversation with my friend and those whom I knew who happened to be there fro breakfast as well), I started to wonder if our server had forgotten our food, let alone a re fill of our drinks.

When the food finally arrived, it was well worth the wait. My Omelet medley was filled with mushrooms, tomatoes, gruyere cheese, asparagus and crème fiache, topped with parsley. I was surprised that the omelets was accompanied by home-style potatoes, cut in quarters and seasoned with a slight spicy Cajon sprinkle.

My friend was not too impressed with his pancakes, mostly due to the lack in number of the patties, but I would suggest the omelet, for sure!

308 Greenup St
Covington, KY

M-Sa
6am to 4:30

My good friends who had relocated to Ashville, NC were in town for a few days so before they left, I wanted to treat them to dinner. The last night that they were in town, we scudded across the Ohio River into Covington, KY to try our taste at Korean cuisine. Riverside Korean Restaurant, located just blocks from the Ohio River on Madison Avenue, is so named because of its close proximity to the water of both the Ohio and Licking Rivers. This small and quaint restaurant is nestled in Covington’s old downtown district. Opened limited hours during lunch and dinner (as are most restaurants in this area) a reservation is not necessary at dinnertime, but they are taken and highly encouraged.

Like many other Asian cultures, it is customary to serve dinner ban-chan, a number of small dishes that we would call appetizers. These are pictured in the white bowls. The ban-chan included kimchi, dried radish, cold kimchi, cooked yams and spinach, all delightfully seasoned with authentic Korean flavor. There were six of us but because of previous visits, decided to only order 3 entrees and share among the six of us.

Surprisingly, there are a number of selections for such a small and limited restaurant. As I looked over the menu, I skipped over the grilled cow tongue decided that I wanted to chomp my bit on Corn Hen Soup cooked with Ginseng (pictured below). Our other two dishes were Korean barbecue, tweegi bulgoki and stir-fried chicken and vegetables, tak doritang.

Not too used to spicy food, it was the consensus to order all of the dishes mildly hot, which we had requested to be mildly hot, seasoned with visible flecks of hot pepper. I do have to say that there are a limited number of establishments that serve authentic Korean faire (I do believe there are only a handful in the entire Cincinnati area) but being a former Korean Linguist in the US Army and obtaining a degree in Korean Studies, after tonight’s meal, I thought that I was once again in Nam Tea Buk.

Grade: A+

512 Madison Ave Covington, KY 41011-1506 (859) 291-1484
Mon-Fri 11:30am- 2:00pm Fri-Sat 5:00pm-10:30pm Sat 12:00pm- 2:00pm Sun-Thu 5:00pm- 9:30pm

Vacationing at the Jersey Shore

If you’re planning a trip to the New Jersey shore, there are several things to consider. Because there are so many beach towns, you should do your research ahead of time. If you’re looking for a quiet seaside town, you may want to vacation in a small town like Avalon. If you want to be closer to the action and excitement, Wildwood or Atlantic City may be more your speed. If you want to see historic sites, consider Cape May. Luckily, no matter where you stay at the shore, you will likely be within 45 minutes of most any other town. On my family’s recent trip to Avalon, we made several day trips to some of Jerseys other seashore towns.

Avalon. Avalon is a quiet town. If you’re going strictly for the beach, it’s wonderful. With nary a boardwalk in sight (there is a very small “boardwalk” with a small arcade and an ice cream shop– that’s pretty much it). Avalon is still my favorite place for a family-style vacation. This summer they had free movies on the beach every Tuesday night. Restaurant stop: Tortilla Flats, for some authentic Mexican food.

Stone Harbor. Stone Harbor is a charming town, with some great little shops. I stepped into a Christmas shop in July! There are also some great restaurants, including Henny’s, which is a Stone Harbor tradition. Restaurant stop: Henny’s– and check out the early bird specials if you like to eat before 5.

Sea Isle City. Sea Isle offers bicycle rentals on their boardwalk. We rented a big carriage style pedal bike for my husband and I and our two kids. Very fun indeed! Restaurant stop: JR’s Chicken & Ribs

Ocean City. If you’re looking for a boardwalk, OC’s is one of the best. Look for the guy that makes the huge sand sculptures. Restaurant stop: Cousins, for Italian food.

Wildwood. Wildwood also has a great boardwalk, featuring Morey’s Piers. There are also arcades, old fashioned photo studios, games and tons of places to eat and buy fudge and salt water taffy. The boardwalk tends to be less crowded during the afternoon hours, so if you have young children who want to go on the rides, this is the best time to go. Restaurant stop: Menz Restaurant–check out the cool artifacts throughout the restaurant!

Cape May. Cape May is a great day trip if you’re down at the shore. Look for the old lighthouse. There’s also great shopping. Best of all, Cape May has a large zoo, The Cape May County park and Zoo, which is free. We took our kids there and they had a great time. Also, take a cruise on the Cape May- Lewes ferry. Restaurant stop: the Mad Batter, for a delicious breakfast.

Atlantic City. Known as the home of the East Coast’s casinos, AC has a lot more to offer. If you want to check out the casinos, try the new Borgata, which is elegant and sleek. Atlantic City also has plenty of things for the kids to do– just 10 miles west of AC is the famed Storybook Land, which is a story-themed amusement park. Restaurant stop: Cuba Libre, inside the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, for awesome Havana style food and drinks (it’s a rum bar).

There are so many more Jersey shore towns– many, many that I have never been to. But I’ve heard great things about Long Beach Island (not to be confused with New York’s Long Island), Sandy Hook, Seaside Heights and Point Pleasant beach.

Wherever you decide to stay, make sure to take advantage of all of the fun things you can do at the Jersey shore–from renting a jet ski to going to the top of a lighthouse to taking a walk on the boardwalk for ice cream. If you have kids, make at least one stop at a water park or amusement park– and don’t forget to play a round of miniature golf (miniature golf places are all over the place at the shore). And remember, when all is said and done, nothing is better than taking an early morning walk on the beach. Get up as early as you can and take a stroll with only the seagulls– and maybe a few fisherman– as your company.

Beauty, Scenery, and Culture: France’s Loire Valley

It actually is possible to plan a French vacation where Paris is not the main attraction. Yes, it is a beautiful city, but your trip to France should not be limited to one place. Consider visiting the Loire Valley for some great photo ops and a vacation that will have everyone talking. This region of the country is home to castles, churches, scenery, and a medieval abbey where you will find the remains of legendary royalty. The Loire Valley is storybook France, with its medieval villages and stunning architecture.

For an idea of how many castles and chateaux you will see in the Loire Valley, here is the tally: Chateau d’Amboise, Chateau d’Angers, Chateau de Saumur, Chateau de Ducs de Bretagne, Chateau du Plessis-Bourre, Chateau de Blois, Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau, Chamont-sur-Loire, Chateau de Chinon (the medieval castle made famous by its role in the movie ‘The Lion in Winter’), Chateau de Brissac, and Chateau de Serrant. How in the world can you decide which places to visit? Decide what you are most interested in. If you want only to visit the castles or forts that are most famous, check out Chateau d’Amboise, a beautiful Renaissance castle with striking architecture and a beautiful view of the town of Amboise.

Chateau de Chinon, though much of it is ruined now, is a great vacation stop. It was in royal hands for years and was a favorite of King Henry II of England (father of the infamous King John) who had made a grasp for French lands and finally succeeded. Walking among the ruins will send a shiver up the spine of anyone daring enough to visit. Chaumont-sur-Loire is an ancient castle that had its beginnings in the 900s but was rebuilt and beautifully furnished throughout the ages. The castle that stands today has more of a 15th or 16th century look, with its high round towers and pointed roof. In the mid-16th century, the castle was home to Catherine de Medici, Queen of France. Another woman with royal connections, Diane de Poitiers, was given dominion over the chateau in the years to come.

What about the churches that dominate the Loire Valley? Stop by the romantically-named Cathedrale de Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul (which translates to the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, though it doesn’t sound nearly as exotic). It is located in the city of Nantes (pronounced “nahnt”). You will find some important burial sites inside the church. The cathedral’s construction began in the 15th century and was not finished for hundreds of years. You will be amazed at the spires and its sheer height; the plain exterior, devoid of much color and variation, is severe and yet elegant.

The Cathedrale St-Maurice is another old church that is well worth the visit; it can be found in Angers. Don’t forget to look for the stained glass, one of the most interesting facets of its architecture. In another part of the valley stands Sainte-Croix Cathedral, only one of many churches built here. Local history says that as far back as the 4th century, a church of some kind stood at the same place.

For a different kind of religious experience, visit Abbaye de Fontevraud (Fontevraud Abbey). Built in the 1100s and patronized by Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (mother to King John Lackland and King Richard the Lionhearted), Fontevraud is also this royal family’s burial place. This beautiful abbey has the imagery of a peaceful spiritual retreat, but it wasn’t always so. For over a hundred years it even served as a jail.

You will also find museums and other historic sites in the Loire Valley, such as an ancient town where the inhabitants cut their homes directly from stone. This area is known as Rochmenier and it is actually classified as a troglodyte village. Check out the Dungeon of Eagles to see amazing animals. And for more prehistoric fascination, visit Le Grottes Petrifiantes where you can “walk beneath the earth” to see natural beauty in fantastic caves.

What is the best way to see the Loire Valley? Well, I wouldn’t suggest walking unless you have very sturdy feet. Take a boat down the river and make sure to have your camera handy for all those beautiful shots of castles, villages, and scenery. You can do some walking in the villages you will find along the way, such as Amboise, Angers, and Montresor. Montresor, not often mentioned, is a wonderful architectural gem. Here you can find many old homes that have stood for over four hundred years (and some cases, probably much longer than that). Montresor has its own chateau, and everywhere you look you will find medieval flavor.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer

Close to Home Labor Day Weekend Getaways

By Christina VanGinkel

With Labor Day weekend only a few days away, deciding on a destination for a weekend getaway might seem like it is too late to accomplish, but it is not. If you do not want to travel far, especially if you will be getting to any destination you choose by driving, consider some of the many options open to last minute travel on the long weekend. While you might think many locales would have no openings available late in the season, with many colleges and schools now starting before what was once the traditional step up to the school year, you can often find openings for getaways that at one time would have been booked solid long before the holiday weekend.

County fairs are happening in all sorts of communities at this time of year. If one is within driving distance to you, make it a day trip or even an overnighter. Fairs often have a variety of fast foods, games, amusement rides, and down home attractions such as beef sales and horseshows. Stock racing is increasingly becoming popular at fairs, so if you are a fan, you might even be able to take in a race or two.

Camping is always a great way to spend Labor Day weekend. Check with local or not too distant campgrounds to see if any spaces are available. Whether you are camping roughing it style with a tent and not much more, or you have a camper and want to set up camp at a location that has electricity and running water, a three day weekend is a perfect time span for a quick camping outing. Go on a hike, get in some geocaching, grill out, sit under the stars and stargaze, roast marshmallows around a campfire, in general just spend the time relaxing once camp is set up.

If you happen to have a Bed and Breakfast close by, consider checking in for the weekend. Maybe you have always wanted to check it out, but figured taking a vacation so close to home was not really a vacation, but if you would really like to spend the time relaxing, what better way than to save your sanity by not spending it traveling. Once you have stayed there and checked it out personally, you can also give first hand recommendations to out of town guests.

Check into a spa. With three days to spend there, you can actually get into the relaxing part of the stay that you may not have the time to accomplish with just a conventional two-day weekend. Book a full body massage, a pedicure, and a facial. With three days to fill, you can take part in many more treatments and activities than you would think possible.

Is there an attraction close to where you live that you have always thought you might like to try, but you never seem to have time to check it out? A hot air balloon ride, a river rafting excursion, paragliding or hang gliding, or how about a beginner’s set of lessons on a hobby such as surfing or scuba diving are all choice options for the long weekend. Check with a local travel agency to find out what might be available this late in the season. Last minute bookings can be a bonus both ways. The travel agent gets to fill otherwise empty spots and you might even discover a bargain or two amidst the late holiday season.

Shopping might not be everybody’s idea of a vacation, but with malls and stores everywhere offering up sales on Labor Day weekend, if you enjoy shopping, the three-day weekend might be your dream come true. Maybe you have always wanted to check out a large mall that is a few hours away, but figured that by the time you arrived on a Saturday and would have to head home on Sunday that it was just not worth the drive. With Monday added to the queue, you can be assured you will have plenty of time to hit all of the stores you want. Be sure to call ahead to arrange lodging, and plan to check out a few of the local eateries to round out the weekend.

If you want to spend Labor Day weekend taking a mini vacation or occupied doing something you have always dreams about, it is not too late. Pick up the phone and make a few calls, and spend the weekend having fun instead of home thinking about all the places you might have gone or excursions you might have enjoyed!

Visit Michigan

Michigan is a great state to visit for young and old alike. There is a lot to see and plenty to do. Home to 5 Great Lakes, Michigan is known as the Great Lakes State for good reason. Sit on the beaches of Lake Michigan and watch the sun set or travel north and take a step back in time as you visit Mackinaw Island. Besides the beaches, Michigan has a number of pro sports teams, magnificent lighthouses, ship wreck museums, and much more.

Northern Michigan

Visitors often refer to the Upper Peninsula as Northern Michigan. However, any Michigan native will be quick to point out that northern Michigan is actually part of the Lower Peninsula.

Northern Michigan includes places like Traverse City, known for their annual cherry festival, Charlotte (if you want to fit in with true Michiganders you will pronounce this as Shar-Lot), and Mackinaw City.

Mackinaw City serves as the gateway to the Upper Peninsula. Here is where the Mackinac Bridge sits, where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, and where Fort Michilimackinac still stands. Visitors can stop by the fort that was built in the 1700s as an outpost for fur trappers and Native Americans. Actors dressed in period pieces still carry on as if it were a working fort.

Within view of the Mackinac Bridge that connects the upper and lower peninsulas sits Mackinac Island. It is like taking a step back in time as the ferry pulls up to the docks. No cars are on the island; only horses and bicycles. Walk around and visit the stores by the docks. There are gift shops and several places known for their Mackinac Island Fudge. I suggest stopping by Joann’s Fudge of Mackinac Island. It is the best around. Also on the island are wonderfully ornate homes, the Grand Hotel, another fort and a cemetery in the woods. Ferries are available from St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula or take of from Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula.

Southern Michigan

Southern Michigan is home to number of great travel destinations. Stop by Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, or Ann Arbor.

Battle Creek is home to the Kellogg’s. Stop by Kellogg’s Cereal City USA and check out the museum and factory tour that are all part of this theme attraction. Afterwards, stop by Binder Park Zoo. This zoo located on Division St. offers visitors a chance to see Wild Africa. Free range animals like giraffes, zebras and ostriches mingle together on an open range. The park also features a number of other unique animals. Check out the red panda. Though not actually bears, these red pandas are distant relatives of the panda and are closely related to raccoons.

Check out the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There you will undoubtedly find the university’s sports teams and the Charles Baird Carillon. This carillon is the third heaviest in the world and features 55 bells, each weighing 21 pounds to 12 tons.

Ann Arbor is also home to a number of wonderful shops, spas, and museums.

West Michigan

If you will be in West Michigan you definitely have to stop by the beach-side towns of Grand Haven and Holland.

Grand Haven offers spectacular beaches and lake views; not to mention a boardwalk, singing fountain, and a lighthouse all within a short distance of one another. Stop by Snug Harbor, a beach side restaurant feature excellent food. I suggest trying the Jerk Chicken Nachos. Also across the street from the state beach is a road that dead ends into an overlook of the city.

Holland, located just to the south of Grand Haven is home to a large Dutch population. Stop by in the spring time to see all the tulips in bloom at the annual Tulip Festival or go out and see the large traditional Dutch windmill. Holland is also home to a number of outlet stores and a mall.

East Michigan

Probably the best known part of East Michigan is Detroit and its suburbs. Stop in and see one of the pro sports teams play. Detroit is home to the Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons, and Lions. Visit Greek Town for some excellent food. Take in a concert at the DTE Energy Music Theatre. There is something for everyone in the Detroit area.

Upper Peninsula

Sit along the shores of Lake Superior or go down in a copper mine on the Keewana Peninsula (the northern most point of Michigan). Catch a glimpse of the Presque Isle Light House near Marquette or head over towards Munising. Munising is home to the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore- colorful 50-200 foot sandstone cliffs that line the lake. It is also home to the Shipwreck Museum. Visitors can even take a glass-bottom boat tour of the shipwrecks off the cost.

Visit London’s Haunted Tower: History and Intrigue

Want to know where you can find the most haunted building in London? Opinions differ, but many will tell you that the most haunted is, without a doubt, the infamous Tower of London. There have been numerous stories and unexplained incidents throughout the years that are difficult to brush away as mere coincidence. Before you visit this place, you should have some basic background information that makes it easier to understand the Tower’s purpose and history. Although the structure’s origins date back to the time of King William the Conqueror, whose Norman troops (French descendents of the Vikings) took over England from the native Saxons, the ground was occupied much earlier. Roman troops once built fortifications here.

The Tower of London’s famous moat was not constructed until the 13th century when King Richard the Lionhearted of Crusader fame deemed it important to have this feature. Throughout the centuries, as is common with European structures, different parts and rooms were added until it became the Tower we recognize today. Sketches from as far back as the 16th century show us that very little has been changed architecturally; those of us with English ancestry can imagine any of our forebears walking London’s streets and seeing the exact same scene.

Part of the Roman structure can still be seen if you look hard enough; ruins are scattered about, and the walls bear witness of the older building. If you like ghost stories, make sure to visit Tower Hill. This is where many hapless criminals (and perhaps the innocent as well) were executed after a nasty meeting with the lawmen of the time. It is chilling to stand here and contemplate how many people met their deaths without a fair trial. In the times of the Tower, very little evidence was needed to condemn a person. All a king needed to do was claim his wife had been unfaithful, or was perhaps dabbling in witchcraft, and it was “off with her head.” There did not need to be conclusive evidence, if the general public believed his story.

At one time, animals were a part of the Tower of London, amusements for whomever happened to be king at the time. There was actually a section known as the Lion Tower, which has since been stripped of its title and used for tourist purposes. The Middle and Byward Towers are huge, imposing structures that resemble miniature castles. Anyone walking through these might just feel they’ve been transported to the Middle Ages (and hopefully allowed to keep their heads).

If you like haunted places, the Bell Tower will probably be your favorite part of the Tower complex. Constructed in the Middle Ages, the bell in the ancient tower is used to this day but for a different purpose. This is the place where prisoners languished before justice was meted out. Among those people were Queen Elizabeth I (who fortunately was let out and allowed to continue her reign until her death in the early 1600s) and Sir Thomas More (who fell out of favor with the king and was not so lucky). Another place that may bear some emotion of the past is the Traitors’ Gate, aptly named since it was one of the final “ports of call” for many who arrived there.

Would you want to live in a place called the Bloody Tower? According to ghost enthusiasts, some spirits have made this their permanent home. Most students of English history have heard the story of the “Princes in the Tower,” young boys supposedly killed by a relative who wanted the throne for himself. It is widely thought that some sort of foul deed took place, but the 17th century discovery of bones in the tower was fodder for the imagination. Although the princes’ memory has been honored by a decent burial at Westminster Abbey, there is still a decidedly odd feeling in the area of their death. Sir Walter Raleigh’s fate was also intertwined with this particular tower, since this was his prison for years before his death was ordered.

Perhaps the most beautiful of the towers and buildings that make up the Tower of London is the sturdy White Tower, an edifice still standing proudly from the difficult days of the Middle Ages. This was actually the royal home, and the king took care of business here with his court presiding. This is one of the places where you can see stones from a much older structure, attesting to the age of the grounds.

Be warned that few people visit the Tower of London without either feeling, sensing, or seeing something out of the ordinary. If you don’t believe in supernatural things you’ll still have a good time, but keeping your mind open will definitely enhance the experience.

By Lacie R. Schaeffer